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La Mer: Ahab’s divinity of oceans

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I live near the sea, and I’m not sure I could live away from it again. It is such a grounding force in my life. I need only walk by it to remember that my troubles are trivial. But the sea does not ground me necessarily because it is peaceful. As we know too well from natural disasters, the sea can be merciless. It is that power, whether unleashed or dormant, that grounds me. The sun paints the sea with light, and the sea tolerates it. But underneath lie fathoms of darkness. Humans are nothing in comparison.

Lord Byron better expressed this sentiment in “The Dark, Blue Sea”. I first learned of this poem on Black Math Horseman’s blog, which I believe frontwoman Sera Timms curates. Almost every day, she presents a thought-provoking image paired with a thought-provoking quote. This may not seem like much, until one considers the visual and literary vocabularies needed for such a presentation. Since I spend so much time around computers, these images and words have become sensory oases for me. The eye can starve for imagery; the brain can starve for stimulation. In the morass of digital death that is the Internet, Black Math Horseman’s blog literally helps keep me alive.

A recent post referred to the above image and the below quote from “The Dark, Blue Sea” (see full poem here):

Roll on, thou deep and dark blue ocean-roll!
Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain;
Man marks the earth with ruin-his control
Stops with the shore;-upon the watery plain
The wrecks are all thy deed, nor doth remain
A shadow of man’s ravage, save his own,
When for a moment, like a drop of rain,
He sinks into thy depths with bubbling groan,
Without a grave, unknell’d, uncoffin’d, and unknown.

Now that is heavy.

It brings to mind scenes from movies (unless one has actually been in the ocean depths) where the sea attacks human vessels. Bulkheads groan, water leaks like blood, and Foley engineers have a field day with reverb. I think of the terrified Germans in Das Boot as depth charges explode around them, the ample waterworks (in both senses) in Titanic, and the endless darkness of The Abyss. Waiting to die in the sea must be the heaviest feeling ever. Even cinematic depictions of that feeling electrify me.

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Ahab – “The Hunt”

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I’m not alone in that fascination. German band Ahab style themselves “Nautik Funeral Doom”, and their first album, 2006’s The Call of the Wretched Sea, is a rich rendering of oceanic dread. (Reverb-soaked ambience ties together tracks in a clear attempt to evoke the ocean depths.) Lyrically, “The Pacific” addresses the topic directly (“Your awful stirrings seem to speak of some hidden soul beneath”), but “The Hunt” is a better sonic representation. After a meditative intro, great weight crashes down around 3:52 in. Slow, relentless lashings ensue. The funeral march then yields to a bottomless expanse, as a ghostly melody sings above. I’m spent just listening to it; I can’t imagine what it would be like to play it.

So your ship is going down, and the hull is cracking. Outside your room’s walls, which will not last much longer, metal groans and water churns. This room will be your tomb.

What song comes to mind?

— Cosmo Lee

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BUY THE CALL OF THE WRETCHED SEA

Amazon (CD)
Amazon (MP3)

CM Distro (CD)

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